Learn to Speak Horse

   When I was a kid, I used to get up on Saturday mornings and watch cartons. Back then it was the only time you could see cartons on TV. There were only a couple channels on TV back then, no VCR's, DVD's or VDV's or whatever's. Actually, it was even in black and white. Saturday morning until almost noon was carton/TV time for kids. Most of the cartons involved animals that spoke and acted like humans. So, I like most grew up thinking that I could talk to animals and treat them like humans and they would somehow understand. And yes of course, one of my favorite movies was Dr. Doolittle.

  They lied to us!  Animals can't talk or think like humans. And horses don't understand it when we treat them like humans either. If you are experiencing unwanted behaviors or training issues with your horse then I recommend you learn to speak "horse."  Your horse didn't wake up this morning and say to himself "today I am going to really try to understand what my human is trying to tell me." Nope, I guarantee he didn't wake up this morning and think that. So, it's up to you to learn his language and try to understand him.

  The first thing you want to remember is that a horse is a herd animal so when you are with your horse, he thinks of you and him and others around him as a herd. Every herd has a leader and the rest follow. It's not a democracy in his world. It's a dictatorship. We don't like it as Americans, we think that system is horrible but to the horse, it is calming and comforting to know that someone else is in charge. That is why they say the kindest thing you can do for your horse is be a kind but firm leader.

  The leader has all the responsibilities. The leader decides where we go, when we go, how fast we go there, when we eat and when we don't (that one is very important). The leader of the herd gets first choice of the food he wants to eat and the ground that he wants to stand on.  After you take the sex stuff away horses really only care about 2 things, eating or being eaten.

1. Eating

  In the herd, the leader controls the food. In the pasture the leader chooses the pile of hay he wants and he takes it. He walks towards the other horse, and the other horse moves away.  That is why you should NEVER move away from a horse, always have the horse move away from you. If the food is shared that's like saying we are equal, pals, friends ect. That's a human thing, eating together as equals. We are not equal with our horses! They are 1,000 lbs we are 150 lbs. 

  Our horses need to know that we control the food or when they get to eat. I would recommend leading the horse into the stall and releasing him to eat. Every feeding is a training opportunity. I have seen many times over the years that the horses that really don't understand that the human is the leader have their meals magically appear through a hole in the wall.

2. Being Eaten

  It is the herd leader's job to keep the herd safe. It is his job to watch or be on the look out for predators. That is why it is so important to look where you are going when you are leading a horse because if you look back at him or down at the ground then who is the leader? Who is looking for the predators? If not you, then his herd instinct tells him that it's his job. A lot of horses become stressed and anxious with that responsibility especially when they go to a strange place. At home, they will just head for the barn where they know there is a leader or they feel safe. Humans call it barn sour,  the horse calsl it lack of leadership. 

  Remember we have to think like the horse. If you can lead your horse, stop your horse, release him to eat or not, trot him fast or slow, have him stand still without touching him then I would say your horse understands you are his leader. In fact, why don't you try it with a white tee shirt on.  If you can do all these things without getting the shirt dirty then I would say your horse understands that you are the leader and you are now ready to move on to riding.  If your horse does not trust you as a worthy leader, then you are probably not to safe on his back.

  Rick Lamb said in his blog  “Think about what often happens when a novice handles a horse on the ground. The horse will push and crowd until the novice moves out of the way to avoid being stepped on. This submissive body language – the willingness to be moved by the horse – reinforces the horse’s assertive behavior and causes it to recur. A more experienced horseman handling the same horse would defend his space and not allow that reinforcement to occur.”So, according to Rick and I agree, if our horses are being pushy it is very possible that we have trained them to be that way.

      Take this white tee shirt challenge:
      1.  Lead your horse from both sides at the walk and trot 
      2.  Stop your horse and have him stand still for 30 seconds without touching him
      3.  Have your horse stand for 30 seconds in the grass without eating
      4.  Then do it all in a strange place or at home without holding onto the rope

 When I hear someone say "my horse needs to learn better ground manners" I think to myself, I need to teach you to speak "horse."  Your horse will be happy and more relaxed when he knows that you are going to be the leader and protect him from the predators. I guarantee it.  The leader never backs up or gives ground, the followers always move out of the way of the leader, that is horse language.  The leader is in charge and the followers have no worries and no responsibility, they just follow.   Learning to speak horse will take time, but the personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment will make it so worth it. Your success will be determined by your level of commitment and your horse will thank you.

Terry Peiper, CSE
Saddlefit 4 Life Certified Saddle Erogomist
Richard Shrake Accredited Instructor/Trainer
American Riding Instructor Association certified Instructor